Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Belgium

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Belgium, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 10,600,000
Capital: Brussels
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Protection of the right to strike is weak. Employers exploit the possibility given them in law to claim an "emergency" in order to break strike pickets. A complaint by the three national centres to the European Committee of Social Rights was being examined at the time of writing.


Basic trade union rights are guaranteed, however there are some areas of concern. Workers have the right to form and join unions of their choice. While special protection is awarded to workers' representatives on works councils and health and safety committees, freedom from anti-union discrimination is not adequately secured as union representatives are not fully protected against dismissal. Collective representation of workers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is not fully protected either, although the situation improved with the adoption of a law in 2008 which secured consultation and information rights for trade union representatives in SMEs.

The right to strike is recognised, although there is no clear legal definition of this right. Civil courts have also weakened the right, in particular by restricting strike pickets. An appeal was lodged in 2009 with the European Committee of Social Rights. Also in 2009, the Brussels Industrial Court refused to recognise the seriousness of the grounds for dismissing a delegate during a collective action. In the same judgement, the industrial court said that the right to strike was not limited to strikes as such but could cover other types of actions (occupations...).


Background: Since the last legislative elections on 13 June, the political crisis of several years became even more acute. The Dutch- and French-speaking parties have been unable to reach a compromise on the institutional reforms needed before a government can be formed. The caretaker government has little margin for manoeuvre or decision-making powers. Major socio-economic policy decisions have been put on hold.

Non-respect of the 2002 "gentlemen's agreement" on the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes, right to strike flouted: Despite an informal agreement signed by the social partners in 2002, aimed at encouraging conciliation and mediation over all other forms of dispute settlement, employers have often and abusively called for the courts to intervene, claiming an "absolute emergency". Rather than enter into negotiation, enterprises file an ex parte application which results in the courts taking a decision before the workers have had an opportunity to plead their case. Heavy fines are foreseen if they ignore these rulings. Appeals are possible, but usually fail. As a general rule, the courts consider that it is not acceptable to prevent employees or third parties gaining access to the workplace, regardless of whether violence is used in doing so, but judges have issued "preventive" orders even when there is nothing to indicate that such acts would be committed. Furthermore, if trade unions call off a strike, the courts consider that the dispute is settled and refuse to rule on the grounds for or possible infringement of the right to strike. The European Trade Union Confederation, ETUC, and the three national trade union centres ACLVB-CGSLB, CSC-ACV and FGTB-ABVV lodged a complaint with the European Committee of Social Rights against this undermining of the right to strike.

Employers still free to dismiss union representatives by paying compensation: A special procedure must be respected when dismissing workers' representatives on works councils and health and safety committees, failing which the workers' representatives can ask for reinstatement. However, in practice, workers' representatives are never reinstated. Employers prefer to pay out legal compensation, even large sums, rather than respect the special procedure or reinstate wrongfully dismissed workers' representatives.

Attempted strike breaking at Inbev: On 12 January, further to strikes at the Liege and Louvain plants of AB Inbev (the brewing giant had just announced restructuring plans that would mean cutting 300 jobs) the employer applied to the courts to have the strike pickets considered as "assault and battery". The courts of first instance ruled that the request was unfounded.

In an appeal concerning the Louvain site, a judge ruled in the employer's favour, ordering the entrances to be cleared to allow goods to enter and leave the plant, a decision challenged by the local authorities. On 20 January the parties to the dispute reached a compromise.

Delta Lloyd banking company shows contempt for social dialogue: On 15 March, following a strike and an ex parte application, the banking company Delta Lloyd issued a summary of a court ruling in its favour on the company's intra net. A union representative who asked for a copy of the court order to examine the possibility of an appeal was refused by the employer on the grounds that a full copy of the order would only be of use in the event of a new strike. On 28 April a tribunal ordered Delta Lloyd to pay legal costs, considering that the employer's behaviour was contrary to the spirit of social dialogue.

Compensation for 26 protected former employees of Forges de Clabecq: On 3 May, at the end of very lengthy proceedings, the metals company Duferco was ordered to pay compensation to 26 former employees of Forges de Clabecq. When the forge went bankrupt in 1997, the unions and the buyer (Duferco) signed an agreement on the re-employment of 800 workers who had lost their jobs. During the proceedings however, nearly all former union representatives were ruled out (only three protected workers out of a total of 160 were invited to submit job applications). Forty two of them lodged a complaint on the grounds of discrimination, believing the arguments given by the employer (absenteeism, involvement in too many workplace accidents, etc.) were fallacious. The tribunal did not uphold the charge of discrimination.

Preventive arrests and physical force against Euromanifestation demonstrators: When the European Day of Action, "Euromanifestation" was held on 29 September in Brussels, organised by the European trade unions, the police made 250 arrests, at least 150 of which were preventive (i.e. before the demonstration). Belgium's Human Rights League and many trade unions also deplored the fact that physical force was used against demonstrators who were not disturbing public order in any way and did not display any real or potential violence.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld